Theodor Adorno

By: Ryan Williams
“Running in the street conveys an impression of terror. The
victim’s fall is already mimed in his attempt to escape it. The position of
the head, trying to hold itself up, is that of a drowning man, and the
straining face grimaces as if under torture. He has to look ahead, can
hardly glance back without stumbling, as if treading the shadow of a foe
whose features freeze the limbs. Once people ran from dangers that were too
desperate to turn and face, and someone running after a bus unwittingly
bears witness to past terror. Traffic regulations no longer need allow for
wild animals, but they have not pacified running. It estranges us from
bourgeois walking. The truth becomes visible that something is amiss with
security that the unleashed powers of life, be they mere vehicles, have to
be escaped. The body’s habituation to walking as normal stems from the good
old days. It was the bourgeois form of locomotion physical
demythologization, free of the spell of hieratic pacing, roofless
wandering, and breathless flight. Human dignity insisted on the right to
walk, a rhythm not extorted from the body by command or terror. The walk,
the stroll, was private ways of passing time, the heritage of the feudal
promenade in the nineteenth century” Theodor Adorno.

Theodor Adorno stated that in the 19th century thus when he
was born in Frankfurt. As an only child to the wine merchant Oscar
Wiesengrund, and of a catholic singer named Maria Barbara. His aunt Agatha
also lived with him. As a child Theodor engaged in four-handed piano
playing, he attended school at the Kaiser-Wilhem where he proved to be a
highly gifted student at the low age of 17 he graduated from Kaiser-Wilhem
at the top of his class. After high school Theodor began college at
Frankfurt.

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By this time he had already composed a number of musical
critiques. After college Theodor went back to Vienna Theodor was not spared
another failure: after his dissertation supervisor Hans Cornelius his
assistant Max Horkheimer voiced their concerns about his professorial
thesis, a comprehensive philosophical-psychological treatise, he withdrew
it in early 1928. It would take him three more years until he received the
venia legendi (which was revoked in 1933) with the manuscript Kierkegaard:
Construction of the aesthetic that he submitted to Paul Tillich. The topic
of his inaugural lecture was the ‘Current Importance of Sociology, a theme
he considered programmatic throughout his life. In it, he questioned the
concept of totality for the first time, anticipating his famous formula –
directed against George Hegel.Among his first courses was a
seminar on Benjamin’s treatise The Origin of German Tragic Drama, his 1932
essay “On the Social Situation of Music” was Adorno’s contribution to the
first issue of Horkheimer’s; it wasn’t until 1938 that he joined the
Institute for Social Research. In the late 1920’s during Theodor’s stays in
Berlin, He had established closer relations with Walter Benjamin and also
with Ernst Bloch, with whose first major work Geist der Utopie he had
already become acquainted in 1921.

The German capital held an even greater attraction to him due
to the presence of chemist Margarethe (‘Gretel’) Karplus, whom he would
marry in London in 1937. In 1934, fleeing from the Nazi regime, he
immigrated to England to regain his professor status in Oxford, which never
happened however, but as a postgraduate there, he undertook an in depth
study of Hegel’s philosophy. He could not resist spending the summer
holidays with his fiance in Germany every year. In 1936, the Zeitschrift
newspaper featured one of Adorno’s most controversial texts, “On Jazz”.

This was less an engagement with this style of music than a first polemic
against the blooming entertainment and culture industry, a system by which
he believed society was controlled by a top-down creation of standardized
culture to intensify commodification.

Intense epistolary contact with Horkheimer, who was living in
American exile, led to an offer of an interesting and profitable employment
on the other side of the Atlantic. In 1937 Theodor visited New York for the
first time he decided to resettle there. In Brussels he bade his parents,
who followed in 1939, farewell, and said goodbye to Benjamin in San Remo.

Benjamin opted to remain in Europe, thus limiting their very rigorous
future communication to letters. Shortly after arriving in New York,
Horkheimer’s Institute for Social Research accepted Adorno as an official
member. His first job was directing the “Radio Project” together with the
sociologist Paul Lazarsfeld. He also took up a post at Princeton University
between 1938 and 1941.

Very soon, however, his attention shifted to direct
collaboration with Horkheimer. They moved to Los Angeles together, where he
taught for the following seven years he spent as the co-director of a
research unit at the University of California.

Their collective found its first major expression in the
first edition of their essay collection “Dialectic of Enlightenment” in
1944. Faced with the unfolding events of the Holocaust, the work begins
with the words “In the most general sense of progressive thought, the
Enlightenment has always aimed at liberating men from fear and establishing
their sovereignty. Yet the fully enlightened earth radiates disaster
triumphant.” Theodor, 1973 it was published in 1947. In this influential
book, Adorno and Horkheimer outline civilization’s tendency towards self-
destruction. They argue that the concept of reason was transformed into an
irrational force by the Enlightenment. As a consequence, reason came to
dominate not only nature, but also humanity itself. It is this
rationalization of humanity that was identified as a cause of fascism and
other totalitarian regimes. Consequently, Adorno did not consider
rationalism a path towards human emancipation. For that he looked toward
the arts.

This is one of Theodor’s greater findings, saying that we
want power. We want to be irrational and we are because of the force by the
enlightenment. After 1945 Theodor ceased to work as a composer. He was
entrusted with the honorable task to advise Tomas Mann on the musicological
details of his novel Dr. Faustus. Apart from that he worked on his
‘philosophy of the new music’ in the 1940s, and on Hanns Eislers’s
composing for the films. He also contributed ‘Qualitative Interpretations’
in anti-Semitic. Qualitative in social science means “makes no attempt to
measure, count, or classify, but rather tries to capture the full
complexity of social phenomena through descriptive analyses that focus on
the details and nuances of people’s words and actions.” Qualitative
techniques were first developed in ethnography but are now used in most
social sciences.

In psychological and some other social sciences, when formal
qualitative techniques became available in the 1990s, the decision to use
them often reflected a philosophical or ideological belief that
quantitative measures were inappropriate or inadequate in a human science.


Nowadays, however, most social scientists would see qualitative and
quantitative techniques as complementary. Still though it’s performed by
multiple research institutes in the US that uncovered the authoritarian
character of test persons through indirect questions.

After the war, Theodor, who had been homesick, did not
hesitate long before returning to Germany. Due to Horkheimer’s influence he
was given a professorship in Frankfurt in 1949/1950, allowing him to
continue his academic career after a prolonged hiatus. This culminated in a
position as double Ordinarius or of philosophy and of sociology. In the
Institute, which was affiliated with the university, Adorno’s leadership
status became ever more and more apparent, while Horkheimer, who was eight
years older, gradually stepped back, leaving his younger friend the sole
directorship in1958. Despite his pessimistic stance, the work raised
Theodor Adorno to the level of a foundational intellectual figure in the
West German republic, after a last attempt to get him involved in research
in the USA failed in 1953.

In 1952 he participated in a group experiment, revealing
residual national socialist attitudes among the recently democratized
Germans. In 1954 onwards, he taught musicology in the summer academies in
Kranichstein. Numerous radio stations had debates with Theodor on them
among others like Ernst Bloch, Elias Canetti and Arnold Gehlen. In 1961 he
initiated the positivism debate at a meeting of the German Society for
Sociology in Tubingen. In 1964 he headed the 15th sociology conference,
where Max Weber and Sociology today and in 1968 he headed the 16th
sociology conference, Late Capitalism or Industrial Society. In 1966 extra
parliamentary opposition formed against the grand coalition of Germany’s
two major parties and was directed primarily against the planned emergency
laws.

Theodor was an outspoken critic of these politics, which he
displayed by his participation in an event organized by the action
committee Demokratie in Nostand. When the student Benno Ohnesorg was shot
by a police officer at a demonstration against a visit by the Shah of Iran,
the left wing APO became increasingly radicalized, and the universities
became a place of unrest. To a considerable extent it was students of
Theodor Adorno who represented the spirit of revolt thus drawing
‘practical’ consequences from ‘Critical Theory’. The leading figures of the
Frankfurt School were not prepared, despite empathizing with the students’
causes, to support their activism. Therefore Adorno in particular became a
target of student action. On the other side of the spectrum, the right
accused him of providing the intellectual basis for leftist violence.

In 1969 the disturbances in his lecture hall increased to an
extent that Adorno discontinued his lecture series. Adorno became
increasingly exhausted and fed up with the situation on campus. His
biographer Stefan Doohm contends that he was convinced the attacks by the
students were directed against his theories as well as his person and that
he feared that the current political situation may lead to totalitarianism.

He left with his wife on a vacation to Switzerland. Despite warnings by his
doctor, he attempted to ascend a 3,000 meter high mountain, resulting in
heart palpitations. The same day, he and his wife drove to the nearby town,
where he suffered heart palpitations once again. He was brought to the
town’s clinic. In the morning of the following day, August 6, where he died
of a heart attack.

Though he was gone Theodor Adorno had left his Theories
behind. Theodor Adorno was to a great extent influenced by Walter
Benjamin’s application of Karl Marx’s thoughts. Unlike Marx, however,
Adorno did not consider capitalism on the verge of collapse this was one of
Theodor’s points that he hit on. Instead he shows that capitalism has
become more entrenched. Additionally, Adorno focused on culture rather than
economics as Marx did. He argued that critical theory must keep a certain
standard. On this ground Adorno attacked many approaches commonly used in
social studies he took out some big questions that sociologist were facing
during this time. He was particularly harsh on approaches that claimed to
be scientific and quantitative proving that they were wrong.

He is probably best known for his critique of “mass culture”
in contemporary societies. He argued that culture industries manipulated
the masses. Popular culture was identified as a reason why people become
passive; the easy pleasures available through consumption of popular
culture made people docile and content, no matter how terrible their
economic circumstances. It is culture industries that produce standardized
cultural goods like factories. There are differences between the cultural
goods that make them appear different, but they are in fact just variations
of the same theme. Adorno called this phenomenon pseudo-individualization.

Theodor saw this mass produced culture as a danger to the more difficult
high arts. Culture industries cultivate false needs; that is, needs created
and satisfied by capitalism. True needs, in contrast, are freedom,
creativity or genuine happiness. Some of the work on mass culture Adorno
undertook together with Maz Horkheimer.

Despite a certain timeliness of Adorno’s work, many aspects
of it are relevant today and have been developed in many strands of
contemporary critical theory though many have there are still tons of his
work that hasn’t be applied to modern day. Theodor did some hard long
studies threw out his life, the top 3 theories that I feel are the most
important are the Critical Social theory, the Aesthetic Theory, and the
Negative Dialects theory. These 3 theories are the most important the
Aesthetic theory is one of the most applied theories today. The Critical
Social theory is not used as much but is being used more and more.

Thinkers influenced by Adorno believe that today’s society
has evolved in a direction foreseen by him, especially in regard to the
past, morals or the Culture Industry. The latter has become a particularly
productive, yet highly contested term in cultural studies. Many of his
reflections on music have only just begun to be debated, as a collection of
essays on the subject, many of which had not previously been translated
into English, have only recently been collected and published as Essays on
Music. Critiques of Adorno’s theories come primarily from Marxist. Other
critics include Ralf Dahrendorf and Karl Popper and positivist
philosophers. Many Marxists accuse the Critical Theorists of claiming the
intellectual heritage of Karl Marx without feeling the obligation to apply
theory for political action.

So in conclusion this is paper is about Theodor Adorno’s life
and some of his ideas of society. Theodor was one of the greatest
sociologists in Germany after World War 2. He had created many theories and
proved many to be wrong. But I do feel as though he primarily viewed
society as a self-regulating system, “from which one must escape” being
Adorno’s exact words. For him it was existent, but inhuman, while others
argue against the existence of such a system. In his argument, he claims
that Critical Theory provides no practical solution for societal change.

This I agree with and I feel as though there is no practical solution for
societal change. Thus concluding my paper on Theodor Adorno I hope you
learned as much about his life and some of his thoughts about life as
meritorious as I did. He lived a very interesting life and had chances to
change the world with his thoughts. Some of the greatest sociologists were
listed in this paper but out of all of them Theodor was the greatest.